Thirty-five years ago, on August 1, 1975, nearly all the Old World countries, plus the United States and Canada, managed to reach political consensus on all key issues and signed the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in Helsinki, the capital of Finland.
The conference involved every European country except Albania, which had opted for self-isolation since the early 1960s, but all the other states, both "capitalist" and Communist, preferred compromise to confrontation.
It was the Soviet-led Communist bloc that had initiated the Helsinki conference as part of the policy of detente, or the "relaxation of international tensions," to quote the Soviet press. In fact, detente was one of the most important trends to emerge during the Brezhnev era, now primarily referred to as an "epoch of stagnation." However, Soviet foreign policy of that time was more dynamic than stagnant.
The Helsinki Final Act did not end the Cold War. In 1978-1979, Nicaragua was torn apart by a civil war indirectly involving both the Soviet Union and the United States. That same year, the U.S.S.R. invaded Afghanistan. And the United States invaded Grenada, a Caribbean island, in 1983. However, the Helsinki conference did manage to stabilize the situation in Europe and preserve the regional status quo.
Each conference participant managed to gain at least something. Notably, the Helsinki Final Act formalized the inviolability of postwar European borders. This benefited the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries to a greater extent than the West. Moreover, the document formalized Germany's division into West and East, both of which signed the act separately, as well as what at the time seemed to be the permanent inclusion of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia into the U.S.S.R.
In response, the Western European partners hoped that the document's principle of non-interference in domestic affairs of other states, including not using military force for such purposes, would be implemented, and that this would prevent a repetition of the events of 1956 and 1968, when Moscow sent military contingents to Hungary and Czechoslovakia in order to quell anti-Communist dissent.
When a serious political crisis erupted in Poland in 1980, it was not the Helsinki agreement that stopped Moscow sending in the troops, but the timely action by the then Polish President, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, in declaring a state of emergency.
Nevertheless, the Western European delegations there to sign the Act did not leave Helsinki empty-handed. The United States and their partners obtained long-term gains, while the Communist bloc derived instant benefits. The West sowed the seeds of future internal strife that was to completely demolish the Communist bloc and the U.S.S.R. in the not too distant future.
These were contained in the so-called "third (humanitarian) basket," namely, the Final Act's Chapter VII "Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief." After reading that chapter, the leaders of the Soviet Communist Party and Government had every right to exclaim "So that is where my demise was concealed!" quoting Prince Oleg of Novgorod, who had ruled Russia from 882 to 912.
It appears that, through sheer intuition, members of the Soviet delegation foresaw a similar outcome because a long and exhausting behind-the-scenes struggle raged around the clauses of precisely that chapter.
However, not signing under the following correct sentences was not an option:
"The participating States will respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.
"They will promote and encourage the effective exercise of civil, political, economic, social, cultural and other rights and freedoms all of which derive from the inherent dignity of the human person and are essential for his free and full development."
In effect, these seemingly innocent and eloquent phrases were a time bomb planted under the global socialist system. Doubtless, the Helsinki Final Act was a fine-sounding and even hypocritical document. Not a single state planned to implement it in full. This primarily concerned the situation with human rights and freedoms in the U.S.S.R.
Nevertheless, Soviet dissidents found in it substantial grounds, as established in international law, for their activities. Western governments also obtained powerful leverage in putting pressure on Moscow and its Eastern European satellite states.
This is what physicist Yuri Orlov, the founder and first head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, an influential human rights monitoring non-governmental organization, wrote on this score: "Technically speaking, the Helsinki Accords removed human rights from the sphere of good wishes and 'our domestic affairs' and put them firmly in the arena of specific international politics, although the Soviet regime did not recognize this in reality, and the West did not take immediate advantage of this. I thought that mere appeals to the Western public would not help, and that it was necessary to establish our own commission to carry out expert monitoring of Soviet violations of these international commitments, and to communicate this to interested states."
Slowly, but surely, the dissidents, like moles, destabilized the pillars of the Soviet system and eventually demolished one of the world's two superpowers. Although the significance of this factor should not be overestimated, neither should it be underestimated. Consequently, it can be said that a "liquidation commission" for the abolition of the Soviet Union had begun its work in the Finnish capital in August 1975.
The Helsinki Accords held out for just 15 years, and the principle of the inviolability of borders subsequently became eroded. The established order began to be violated so often and regularly that the Helsinki Final Act, which currently remains in force, was quietly forgotten. However, its validity is a mere formality without any political influence.
Editor's note: Pagan priests prophesied that Oleg would be killed by his stallion, so, proud of his fortune-telling abilities, he sent the horse away. The horse later died. The legend of his death, romanticized by Alexander Pushkin in the celebrated ballad "The Song of Wise Oleg," suggests that Prince Oleg later asked to see the remains of his dead horse and was bitten by a snake that had slithered out of the horse's skull, after he touched it with his boot.
RIA Novosti political commentator Nikolai Troitsky
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.